A screenshot showing the Raphael Rooms "section" of the Vatican Museums audio tour in VoiceMap 12

VoiceMap Rome: Insight and inspiration, indoors and out

It was only ten weeks ago that we released Version 11 of VoiceMap, with wishlisting and a redesigned tour library. At the time, VoiceMap 12 was earmarked for the end of May, but when I flew to Rome to meet a publisher a few days later, our plans changed. 

Context Travel were working on a tour of the Vatican Museums with five experts, each of them focusing on the parts of this enormous collection they know best. There are 54 galleries linking 1,400 rooms at the Vatican Museums, with 20,000 items on display.

I had visited once before and I understood the challenge. This treasure trove collected by one pope after the other, for centuries, is a lot to absorb in a single afternoon. It isn’t well curated, and at the end, when you’ve been overwhelmed into a tired, footsore resignation, you arrive at the crowning masterpiece: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. 

I spent most of my second visit thinking about attention spans instead of Classical or Renaissance masterpieces, and together with Context Travel, we set about creating a solution. 

We wanted to offer two things:

  1. Insight and inspiration, to extend your attention span
  2. Structure, so you could understand your progress and make informed choices about how you spent your time and energy 

I sketched out an improved version of our interface for indoor tours the next morning, along with an update to Mapmaker, and we got to work building it straight away. 

While our developers were assembling the moving parts, our editors were working with Context Travel to produce seven hours of audio for a tour that could take as little as two hours, but offered a choose-your-own-adventure set of extras that let you dive much deeper. It all came together yesterday in the shape of our Vatican Museums audio guide and our new indoor tour player.

Here’s what you’ll find:

  • Locations are grouped into digestible sections, like chapters breaking up a book. Each section has a total audio time and labels like “Essential” and “Optional” to help you decide what to see.   
  • Clear navigation along a suggested route with text directions that slide in when you need them, followed by a photo of where you need to be next.
  • Tap “I’m Here” when you’re ready – or don’t, and choose “Skip Location” instead to get directions to the next point on your route.
  • There’s also a ”Dig Deeper” button for locations that go beyond the basics, letting you pick what interests you most. 
  • From start to finish, you’ll see your progress through the tour on a bar at the top of the screen.
  • Just below the progress bar, there’s a carousel displaying every location on the tour, grouped into sections. It shows you what you’ve listened to already, and helps you tell whether an optional section just ahead has two locations or twenty. 
  • You can use the new section menu to browse through the tour, with summaries to help you decide what you want to make time for, and what might be best left for another day.
  • Or you can listen with your feet up whenever you like with Virtual Playback. This turns the tour into something you can take in like a podcast or audio book.
  • Some locations have multiple photos, and we’ve added pinch to zoom so you can get in close and see the finer details.
  • If you’re running out of time, or energy, but you’re still trying to take in as much as you can, you can adjust the playback speed to get through things a little faster.

These features aren’t just available at the Vatican Museums. They’re available in Mapmaker for all of our publishers working on indoor tours, and we’ve already pencilled in a few improvements for the future, like floorplans and augmented reality layers.

We give a destination name to all of our releases and we’re calling this version “Rome”. The reason is straightforward – it’s a tour of the Vatican after all – but it’s also come out just a few days after our tenth birthday. While it may have only taken us ten weeks, VoiceMap 12’s foundations weren’t built in a day.

Screenshots from version 12 of the VoiceMap app

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